The Vandal Press Manifesto
A Publishing House for the Blockchain Age
Traditional publishers are in decline. They beg us to subscribe, plaster ads all over their content, and dress up other ads as content. They prey on our anger, sell our data, track our movements, and hire consultants to think up other desperate ways to monetize their increasingly risk-averse offerings. All this and they still struggle to make a profit. They have been in denial about something for over a decade, something they will soon have no choice but to admit. The ad-based model inherent to the current internet simply cannot support quality writing.
The ad-based model was a central fixture of Web 2.0, implemented by establishment publishers (publishing houses like Penguin and media companies like Vice) who never figured out a reliable way to charge a fair price for good written content online. Vandal Press is a new kind of publishing house built on Web 3 technologies. We distribute our writers’ work solely through decentralized and/or distributed platforms that allow for peer-to-peer micropayments directly between writers and readers. We are not a tech company; the platforms have already been built. We are a publishing house for the blockchain age, one that utilizes the most cutting edge distribution technology in existence. The Church used the printing press. Penguin used bookstores, then Amazon. Vice used Facebook and Twitter. Vandal uses Steemit, Medium, and Patreon.
Unlike the publishing dinosaurs, we do not sell advertisements. We therefore do not split ad revenues 90/10 in our favor (us/writer) in order to pay an obsolete staff. We foster direct micro-purchasing relationships between content creators and content consumers, in the range of cents per engagement (engagements are clicks, views, likes, reads, shares, upvotes, etc). We take 10% for curation, distribution, and editorial.
The days of inefficient middlemen pressing writers to the margins while slurping up 90% of revenues have come to an end. Vandal Press writers take the largest piece of the pie.
Listen to an audio explanation of Vandal Press on Isaac Simpson’s podcast here:
Introducing Vandal Press
An audio explanation of Vandal Press on Not a Huge Fan Podcast…
The Goal: What is a Web 3 Publisher?
Our goal is to cut out barriers between writers and their audiences. Most of those barriers are people, members of outdated media and literary establishments that arose in a time when it made sense to give writers only 5–10% of the revenue generated by their work, simply because production and distribution costs were so high. The internet has, however, almost entirely eliminated those costs, while the outdated establishments remain.
Writers should be free to monetize their work at will. The platforms they use to share their work — often for free — receive small amounts per engagement by advertisers, so why shouldn’t writers? Those who routinely generate thousands of engagements per article should be micro-paid for each of those engagements. Authors of popular digital books should be paid far more than 10% for each book (the standard publishing contract), because there are virtually no printing costs involved. Creators of popular articles should get a micropayment per click or share, or have the option to be tipped a cent or two by every reader.
If writers can be paid directly by the consumers of their content, they should be paid directly by the consumers of their content. Of course, writers will have a harder time getting the same number of engagements as a publishing house/media company, because they won’t have a constant stream of diverse content drawing people in. That’s where Vandal Press comes in.
The Method: How Does a Web 3 Publisher Work?
Existing publishing gatekeepers have proven themselves incompetent. Ask a stranger on the street, for example, to name a great living writer outside of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King and see what happens. They are wasteful, exploitative, and unable to properly build and monetize audiences in a way that works for anyone besides the top .0001% of writers. The writing economy is even worse than the global economy when it comes to income distribution—there is no writing middle class. A small handful are extremely rich, while the rest don’t even approach making a real living. Because of this, fresh, experimental, truly anti-establishment writing is increasingly rare.
The distributed web is about to change that. New Web 3 platforms have opened the door to per-engagement micropayments other peer-to-peer, a la carte transactions between writers and their readers. These include centralized platforms like Medium, Patreon, Kindle Direct Publishing, GAB, and Kickstarter’s Drip, as well as decentralized, blockchain-based platforms like Steemit, Brave, Tron, and OpenBazaar. Even financial products like Venmo and low-transaction-fee cryptocurrencies can be used to foster p2p payments between writers and readers. These new fat protocols are automating virtually all of the services once provided by publishing houses and media companies.
CASE EXAMPLE OF OLD WEB 2.0 PUBLISHING
Most media companies offer “exposure” to vast numbers of subscribers as justification for their low or non-existent writers’ fees. Indeed, LA Weekly has nearly 800k Twitter followers, and if you write for them, they will share your work with that audience. LA Weekly also has many employees that need to be paid, and paid first, after the engagements generated by your work are sold to advertisers.
The small fee a writer receives after LA Weekly’s staff of editors, marketers, and middle managers is paid results in a matter of fractions of cents per engagement. LA Weekly considers a piece successful if it gets around 10,000 clicks. The average starting fee for an LA Weekly writer is $50 a piece. That adds up to half a cent per click for a good piece. That doesn’t take into account all the engagements (clicks, likes, comments, shares, etc) that the article causes on social media, which are also packaged up and sold to advertisers by social media companies themselves.
TL;DR There are a lot of people making money off of the engagements caused by a writer’s work, the least of whom being the writer himself.
CASE EXAMPLE OF NEW WEB 3 PUBLISHING
Let’s take a real life writer who has a small following of about 25,000 on Twitter. On Steemit, she monetizes her articles via their micropayments system, where users effectively “tip” their favorite writers a matter of cents per “upvote.” Her articles there routinely make $100–200 from around 100 “upvotes,” and she posts them nearly every day. She also uses Patreon, where her most avid fans (say about 10–20% of her followers) pay her $1–4 per month, resulting in an additional $3,000/month.
Thus, utilizing only two Web 3 platforms, and without any editorial or marketing staff, she is making much more than an LA Weekly freelancer could ever dream of making. And she’s doing it with complete independence from both advertisers and corporate publishers.
Now imagine if she distributed across all Web 3 platforms. What if her work could be cross-pollinated by other similar independent writers on a single publisher’s page? “Exposure,” except monetized?
This is what Vandal Press does.
Vandal Press is a skinny layer between writer and reader that provides the curation, editorial, marketing, and clerical work that writers don’t have time to do. We choose our writers carefully, then distribute their work across all Web 3 platforms that allow them to be paid on a peer-to-peer basis, maximizing their exposure and building their paying audiences. A small monetized audience is far better than a large unmonetized one, as we see in the LA Weekly example above.
In this vein, audience education is very important. We strive to guide readers away from ad-based Web 2.0 platforms to ad-free Web 3 platforms. Why would anyone choose to pay for articles they can get for free? The answer is that they aren’t getting anything for free. On Web 2.0, consumers’ privacy is invaded, their data scraped and sold, their content corrupted. They are already are paying, just with their labor, information, and attention.
Remember, If you aren’t paying for a service, you are the product. Every time you post on Web 2.0—either as a writer or a sharer—you are micropaying the company that owns the platform you’re using, as they sell your content for cents per engagement. It’s time to reverse that flow to ensure that those who generate digital value receive a fair wage for work performed.
APPENDIX: Our Progress and Our Politics
On December 14th, 2017, Vandal Press became an official partner publication of Medium, the most developed Web 3 content platform currently online. Our articles there have already generated tens of thousands of claps, and made thousands of dollars for our writers, all directly from readers without any corporate or advertiser interference. We are currently in the process of expanding to Steemit, GAB, and Patreon.
Our central goal is finding great writers whose writing isn’t properly valued under the current system, and getting them paid fairly. Our content is highly curated, but only in the sense that it’s good. There are currently no guidelines as to what sort of work we want to publish. There is no particular audience we want to cater to, no political statement we want to make.
As we grow, however, we know that washing our hands of politics will not be satisfactory. Many of you will have questions about what we stand for, as you should with any publisher/media company, as all publishers/media companies have political leanings even if they say they don’t. In our hyper-divided time, we will inevitably be painted as on one side or the other, no matter what we say about objectivity. Therefore, we’re going to eschew objectivity from the start. We will instead attempt to be completely transparent about what we believe and what we want our content to achieve, so that we may be held to a clearly articulated standard from now on.
Vandal Press publishes written art.
All art is not political, but the publication of art is inevitably political. A painting found laying on the street is not political. A painting hung in a gallery, on a private collectors wall, in a museum, anywhere, is political.
Supposedly apolitical art supports the politics of the authority which publishes it. Ornate patterns could not be less political taken alone, but become highly political engraved on the wall of a mosque. A vapid Hollywood comedy is apolitical taken alone, but becomes political when distributed by a powerful studio.
All publishers have core political ideologies.
Political ideologies fall on a spectrum between compassion and conscientiousness.
Compassion focuses on those who need the most help. Conscientiousness focuses on the wellbeing of the community as a whole.
The interests of the few must be balanced by the interests of the community as a whole. The community suffers if the wellbeing of the lowest or highest minorities always outbalances the health of the whole. The individual suffers if the wellbeing of the whole always outbalances the health of the lowest or highest minorities.
All people are created equal. No one human is better than another in a metaphysical sense. The idea that there is a divine order of humans based on genetic background is delusional. Given infinite environments, a human of any phenotype has equal probability of rising to unlimited greatness. The same is true of communities.
All people are not created the same. Beauty is real. Greatness is real. People are naturally hierarchical. They make value judgements. While these are subject to constant change, they are real and important.
Equality of opportunity gives beauty and greatness the freedom to flourish. Equality of outcome eliminates freedom, and thus beauty and greatness entirely.
No effort by any community to enforce equality of outcome has ever succeeded.
Freedom is the most important concept. Much more important than the concept of fairness.
Art is a product of free thought.
Free thought is destroyed by total authority, as in a totalitarian state — the tyranny of man.
Free thought is also destroyed by total lack of authority — the tyranny of nature.
Free thought exists in the balance between authority and lack of authority. It is a free mind navigating between the two.
Free thought thus requires decentralized authority.
Art has nothing to do with objective truth, and everything to do with subjective truth.
Every human being holds good and evil within them. The primary struggle is the individual’s battle between the two. The secondary struggle is society’s battle against individuals who have lost the fight against evil within themselves.
No objective criteria signify a victory against evil. Such victories differ within each of us, and within time.
The quality of a piece of art depends on how well an artist paints the portrait of their own subjective battle between good and evil.
All art is speech, but not all speech is art. There are forms of speech—threats, commands, coercions—that are capable of being evil. Written art, however, cannot be evil, because it is standalone and wholly subjective. Believing a poem or an essay or a book is evil is like believing a painting is evil; it is pure delusion.
This is why we have no problem reading books written by serial killers years after the fact. Serial killers are evil. Serial killers’ writings are not. Written truth is always good, even when written by an evil person, because it is helpful in understanding evil.
Anyone angry at written art is angry at truth. They are angry at free thought. They are angry at freedom, the most important concept known to man.
This manifesto is art.
Vandal Press publishes written art.